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North Korea Launches First National TB Survey

FILE - A physician examines an X-ray picture of a tuberculosis patient.
FILE - A physician examines an X-ray picture of a tuberculosis patient.

North Korea is conducting its first-ever nationwide tuberculosis survey, in an effort to find out how prevalent the disease is in the country, UNICEF said Wednesday.

Andrew Brown, a regional spokesperson for UNICEF, said North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health launched the rare survey last month, expected to be completed by the middle of next year. Multiple international agencies, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, provided assistance in the effort, according to Brown.

“Most of the survey activities are being conducted by MOPH, with technical support and oversight by WHO,” wrote Brown in an email to VOA.

“UNICEF was responsible for procurement and will continue to monitor the survey implementation,” Brown added.

Some 70,000 North Koreans from about 100 sites, including 57 urban cities and 38 rural villages, will participate in the survey. The survey includes an individual interview on tuberculosis symptoms, a chest X-ray and a sputum examination.

Ikushi Onozaki, a medical officer for WHO’s Global TB Program, told VOA the survey is aimed at having a “new understanding in the real TB burden in the DPRK,” and finding the solutions “for improvement of TB control activities.”

Onozaki said the main purpose of the survey is “to determine the prevalence of bacteriologically confirmed pulmonary TB cases among the adult population” in the country.

The North Korean health ministry needs $1.4 million for the project. Global Fund, an international financing group that provides aid to developing countries, will contribute $900,000 to it, and the North Korean ministry will cover the rest of the funding, according to Brown.

UNICEF plans to release the results of the survey around the end of next year.

Last month, the World Health Organization said about 5,000 North Koreans died of tuberculosis in 2014. The disease caused 20 deaths per 100,000 tuberculosis patients in the year, a rate more than five times that of neighboring South Korea, according to WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Report 2015.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.